Most people start an exercise program for one reason: to improve the way that they look and feel. They want to lose weight, build muscle, or some combination of both. They don't really care how it gets done either, so long as it actually gets done. For most people, exercise is a necessary evil that leads to a desired end; nothing more and nothing less.
But, what is sad is that an exercise program could be so much more. A person could become stronger, more athletic, develop better balance and coordination, overcome an injury, get out of chronic pain, learn new skills, increase their endurance, and probably move towards world domination. Trainers know this, preach this, and even plead with clients over these variables. Still, most people want to lose some weight, look better naked, and not feel like a bum.
It is completely normal and understandable. No one wants to walk around feeling less than, nor do they want to not like the way they look in the mirror at home. It doesn't much matter to many people if they've gotten stronger, suddenly can stand on one leg without falling, and don't feel knee pain for the first time in years; if they can grab it, and it jiggles, they're unhappy.
I hear ya. And I've heard ya.
For the last ten years I've been a fitness professional. In those years I've trained hundreds of clients, had thousands participate in my group classes, and consulted God knows how many people. I've been asked about the validity of deadlifts while slamming shots of tequila, had emails hit my inbox after an article publishes, and had Facebook messages from people I haven't spoken to in almost a decade.
All of them asking some variety of the question:
"I've been doing "X" for two months and I haven't seen any results. Does it work?"
My answer is always the same, no matter how annoyed I am that people haven't expanded their view of what constitutes a "good" program, workout, or exercise.
"Well, based off what you are saying I'm sure you've gotten (insert variable that isn't weight loss or significant muscle growth). It takes time and a lot of factors to influence a change in your body. What else are you doing to support this program?"
Usually, not always, but usually, I'm met with some variation of trying to eat better and drink less alcohol, which is always ironic when these conversations happen while meeting someone new at a Happy Hour.
They, and you, have aligned yourself with a new exercise routine and are frustrated that it hasn't made you wake up looking ready for the next Fifty Shades movie. You've cut out breads (mostly) and exercise everyday (sorta) - why isn't this working?
And like a frustrated Baby Boomer shaking their phone wondering why it won't call their friend...you eventually toss it out and give up. Instead of taking the time to master the details, you give up and move on to the next thing. Maybe this other program is the one, or this diet is the secret you've never found.
But, the truth is, and you know you know this...
You have to stick with it a bit longer.
You wouldn't quit Med. School just because you weren't a doctor after your first year. But for some reason an exercise program goes out down the toilet faster than a creepy spider that showed up while you were buck naked in the shower. Nah, it's cool...I scream when that happens too.
There are so many more factors and progress points to an exercise program that are often overlooked because they aren't as exciting as seeing the visible changes in your body. Each of these points are like building blocks to the whole - allowing you to reach higher and higher until you finally reach your goal.
What follows is a little bit of watered down science to make this readable from your toilet, but that doesn't make it any less true. I'm going to list some very common results that come from exercise programs and how they actually will help you burn fat, build muscle, and get the body you want. In a classic case of 1+1 = 2...these things do add up over time (when associated with a moderately healthy diet and sleep schedule).
My hope is that you'll take me at my word and stick with that program you are doing now, or have the tenacity to fight through the sticking points of the program you're about to start. It doesn't matter if you are working a trainer in-person, working with an online coaching group, or simply going at it on your own - you have to make like a Philadelphia 76ers fan and "trust the process".
Without further lead in...
Improved Coordination, Balance, and Stability -
Muscle Building - The more improved your coordination and stability becomes, especially on one leg, the more exercises you can add to your program that challenge you, and ultimately build muscle. For example, learning pistol squat, or at the very least nail a single leg deadlift, allows you to train each leg independently, thus helping you build more muscle.
Fat Loss - The better your coordination, balance, and stability become the more qualified you become to do "harder" exercises. Often times as trainers, we must hold clients back from doing exercises that have a high return on investment simply because the injury risk is too high. For example, improving your trunk stability and coordination of the hip hinge would open up an entire book of new movements that could be loaded and used for fitness.
Increased Strength -
Muscle Gain - This should be slightly obvious, but I'll say it anyway. No one grew up to look like Thor by lifting before-the-experiment Captain America weights. For those who aren't into Marvel Comics, you are missing out, and you'll want to get stronger because it will increase the cross sectional area of your muscle fibers, increase the bone density of the place where tendons attach, and allow you a greater "range" of weights to use for hypertrophy sets.
Weight loss - You'll want to get stronger for the same reasons as the muscle gain group, but with one added caveat. Heavy resistance training breaks down muscle fibers to the point where they need repair, which costs energy (AKA calories) to perform. Moreover, high intensity exercise can create an oxygen deficit, which essentially means your body is "owed" oxygen and will burn additional calories until this deficit is handled (Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption). The long and short here: You'll be burning calories long after your workout ends.
Remove Pain/Overcome an Injury -
Muscle Gain and Weight Loss - It's nearly impossible to train hard when you are legitimately injured or are dealing with chronic pain. Whether it is in your shoulders, your knees, your lower back, or something else altogether - you won't get very far if everything you do causes more pain and problems.
Thus, for as boring as they can be a program that helps you correct imbalances, rid of pain, and possibly overcome a long injury (although a physician or physical therapist may be needed for severe instances) will help you finally get to the place you need to be to achieve your goals.
I am working with someone right now who had to deal with some severe issues with her lower back/hip joint prior to embarking on an intense six week training cycle in my online training group. It was so bad it stopped her from running for years. Now, my program wasn't what saved her per se', but her patience and willingness to go see physical therapists and find out the source of her issue now has her crushing deadlifts and running on the regular.
Improve Skills/Athleticism -
Muscle Gain - Yeah, I get it. Running ladders and doing sprints seems counter-intuitive to building muscle. So too does yoga. Quite the opposite though, each of these things provides a unique benefit towards a specific muscle fiber type.
For example, agility and sprint work specifically utilizes type II muscle fibers - the kind that are responsible for explosive force. These same fibers are also very sensitive to growth factors, which make them high responsive to training. Do agility work and sprints and you just might get those calves you've been searching for.
Yoga? Well, the slow flowing movement pattern will help you master new ways of organizing your body, which challenges different muscle groups, activates stabilizers and deep core musculature, and contributes to high levels of oxygenation in the blood. This relaxing, yet challenging methodology also works with those type I fibers associated with endurance. While they aren't as receptive to growth factors as type II fibers they'll still respond.
Weight Loss - You'll get a very special set of skills that make you a nightmare to fat cells. I think that's Liam Neeson's line from Taken...maybe not, I don't remember.
Either way - once again the more things you can do, the more likely you are to be successful in the long run. Being able to mix in agility workouts and sprinting to get your heart rate up will torch calories and develop your lower body. Being able to do yoga will help keep cortisol (stress hormone) levels down and keep your body burning calories for hours on end. Being able to do anything on a BOSU ball, however, is mostly useless.
All Programs -
Will benefit you the way you desire if you:
Stick with them
Train with an intensity that makes you uncomfortable
Eat like an Adult (My favorite Dan John quote)
Sleep like one too
Trust yourself and the process and don't second guess things just because you don't see results overnight.
Fat loss especially is so multi-factorial. That's just fancy wording for saying that there are so many elements that go into it that it can never be singled down to one thing. You could be working out so hard you leave lakes of sweat on the floor, but your sleep and nutrition could be holding you back. You could be eating like a rabbit, sleeping like a Disney character, but not working out hard enough.
It's frustrating I know. I do this for a living and even I think it's bullshit how hard this is at times...
Muscle gain is less complex, but still frustratingly hard. You just have to keep lifting, eating, and hoping you have some great genetics that activate down the line. Manipulating time-under-tension will help too, but that is a conversation for another day.
All in all though, every program can set you up to develop your muscles and present that shape you want to have.
It's alright to be like an angry Grandpa fiddling with a new piece of technology so long as you don't throw it out. Get frustrated a little, say bad words, but keep at it. Programs will lead to results even when they aren't the ones you crave. In fact, it may just be these other results that serve as the building blocks for what you truly want - an improved appearance.
Appreciate that this doesn't come easy instead of despising it. It's better that way even if it is harder to do.
Do this one thing - stick with it - and I can promise you'll be alright.